Dominique Rouse, ATH, Winter Park

Winter Park's Dominique Rouse, after a long journey of getting himself academically eligible, has committed to Eastern Michigan for the 2011 season.. (CHAD PILSTER/FOR THE SENTINEL)

Dominique Rouse’s story was typical of all too many high school athletes.

He had all the athleticism, and then some, to be an NCAA Division I-A recruit, but the Winter Park High athlete did not have the grades to play college ball.

Rouse entered the summer leading up to his senior year with a 1.8 grade point average.

FIU, Iowa State and others were interested, but not with grades like that.

But Rouse refused to be a cautionary tale. Summer-school classes, night classes, Rouse did whatever it took to become eligible.

It might be a case of better-late-than-never, but Rouse’s hard work has finally paid dividends. He was offered a scholarship by Eastern Michigan on Friday, accepted it almost immediately and is now committed to play cornerback for the Eagles.

“This is probably the hardest year I’ve ever had,” Rouse said. “I missed out on so much from my senior year because I had to get my grades right.”

“It’s gotten me to where I need to be, so of course it was worth it, but I sometimes I look back and wish I had buckled down and did what I needed to do my freshman year or I would have never been in this situation. I realized what I needed to do and in time, I got a scholarship.”

Rouse realized he had officially become eligible in early June after his high school graduation, after visiting his guidance counselor. She told him his GPA had improved to a 2.59 and that along with his SAT and ACT scores, the progress had made him college material.

Then he had to find a college. And it was late in the game for a member of the recruiting class of 2011.

“Once I found that out, Coach (Steven) Moffett, Coach Sinclair (Brown) and Coach (Tim) Shifflet, they all went to work for me and started sending my stuff out to colleges and Eastern Michigan was interested,” Rouse said. “So they put me on with Eastern Michigan and that’s how I got to where I am right now.”

Eastern Michigan had been talking to Rouse since last November. Like so many other schools, the Eagles had shown interest but were still wary to offer Rouse because he still had a ways to go in the classroom.

Rouse signed with Ellsworth Community College in Iowa as a backup option in February, but was adamant that he did not want to go the junior-college route.

Memphis, Western Michigan, Bowling Green, Miami and Georgia were all looking at Rouse as a late qualifier once he became eligible, but it was Eastern Michigan that pulled the trigger.

“After the schools were playing around, Eastern Michigan felt like they had a chance, and they definitely did, and I’m glad they took that chance on me,” Rouse said.

Ypslianti, Mich., might be a ways from Orlando, but Rouse will have a comfort zone of sorts at Eastern Michigan, as his childhood friend Donald Scott (a sophomore receiver from Apopka High) is on the Eagles’ roster.

Speaking of Scott, who is also on the Eastern Michigan track and field team. He won the USA National Junior triple jump title this past Saturday (June 25) at the competition in Eugene, Ore.

Rouse (5-10, 170) finished his high-school career -- which started at Apopk and ended at Winter Park -- as the No. 36-ranked player on the Sentinel’s Final 2011 Central Florida Super60. He had four interceptions for the Wildcats last season and will be in the mix for a starting cornerback spot for the Eagles.

Because his services might be needed right away, Rouse has to determine whether he will enroll at Eastern Michigan over the summer or come in during August.

“I might have to go there because they will probably need me to play this year,” Rouse said. “So might go up there this summer.”

Considering where he was at this time a year ago, it’s a good problem to have.

Rouse’s persistence allowed him to get out of the academic hole he dug for himself, but he’s not just satisfied that he escaped his slow start. He wants younger recruits to learn from his mistakes and know that they should aim for more than a 2.0 GPA.

“I’d tell them that every year counts,” Rouse said. “I’d tell them never to slack off in any classes because those will be the classes that will come back to haunt you and prevent you from being the player you know you can be, on the field and off the field.”